Hum­ble hatch­back trades space for sparkle PLUS & MI­NUS

Wheels (Australia) - - Contents - TONY O’KANE

Na­tion’s favourite for­goes space for siz­zle

FEW CARS are as im­por­tant as the Toy­ota Corolla. The model’s de­mure im­age be­lies its significance to the bot­tom line of one of the world’s largest car man­u­fac­tur­ers. If you av­er­age out the sales fig­ures, a Corolla is sold some­where in the world roughly ev­ery 30 sec­onds. Now there’s a new one, and it has a hell of a job on its hands.

Thank­fully, it seems the days of Toy­ota rest­ing on its lau­rels are over. The brand’s long-term sur­vival de­pends on a change in strategy and for the twelfth-gen Corolla, that strategy is led by tech­nol­ogy – in the en­gine bay, wheel wells and be­hind the dash.

The base As­cent Sport comes with a six-speed man­ual with down­shift rev-match­ing, but the rest of the three-vari­ant line-up re­ceives a CVT by de­fault, whether your choose 2.0-litre petrol or 1.8-litre hy­brid power. Toy­ota, con­scious of the CVT’S rep­u­ta­tion for rub­ber-band re­sponse, has en­gi­neered a so­lu­tion in the form of a me­chan­i­cal ‘launch gear’. Only avail­able with the 2.0-litre petrol, it sharp­ens take-off while im­prov­ing re­sponse to sud­den de­mands for ac­cel­er­a­tion. It’s no gim­mick – it works a treat.

The 125kw/200nm 2.0-litre petrol is perky (though noisy) and pro­vides plenty of urge right up to the 6400rpm red­line, and the CVT also does the neat trick of be­hav­ing like a reg­u­lar au­to­matic when you floor the ac­cel­er­a­tor, moving up through 10 ‘gear’ steps rather than slur­ring through con­stantly-chang­ing ra­tios. Shift pad­dles are also there should you feel a lit­tle frisky. It’s a shame the 90kw/163nm hy­brid’s CVT isn’t the same unit, but it’s no deal breaker given a fo­cus on ef­fi­ciency rather than sporti­ness.

The new multi-link rear sus­pen­sion is a mas­sive step up over the old car’s tor­sion beam. Its cal­i­bra­tion feels well suited to Aus­tralian roads, de­liv­er­ing out­stand­ing pli­ancy over rough sec­tions, along with keen cor­ner­ing. It seems the stan­dard brake torque vec­tor­ing sys­tem helps here too.

The top-grade Corolla ZR, which re­places the 16-inch al­loys of the As­cent Sport and SX with 18s wear­ing Dun­lop SP Sport rub­ber, is sharper, but brings a more brit­tle ride and in­creased tyre roar.

The in­te­rior is a mixed bag. The design is hand­some and the top-shelf ZR wows with a dig­i­tal in­stru­ment panel, colour head-up dis­play and body-hug­ging front sports seats, but the ab­sence of satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion in the As­cent Sport stings a lit­tle given its $22,870 price (it’s avail­able as a $1000 op­tion), and there’s no An­droid Auto or Ap­ple Carplay smart­phone mir­ror­ing avail­able to get around that short­fall.

Com­fort and space are great up front, but the story isn’t so rosy

aft of the B-pil­lar. De­spite a 40mm wheel­base stretch there’s a short­age of rear legroom, and the trade-off for the Corolla’s ath­letic new look is re­duced rear head­room. A scal­lope­d­out head­lin­ing at­tempts to max­imise what’s avail­able un­der a newly low­ered roofline but also lends the rear com­part­ment a claus­tro­pho­bic feel. While the ZR grade boasts a pair of rear seat air vents, they’re ab­sent in As­cent Sport and SX, which seems st­ingy. And with bulkier IRS, most ver­sions (see an­no­ta­tion, right) have a small cargo com­part­ment by class stan­dards. At 217L it’s smaller than the out­go­ing Corolla.

More at­trac­tive and re­spon­sive, with greater tech, yet also a bit less prac­ti­cal than it used to be, the new Corolla’s for­mula has shifted in line with as­pi­ra­tions of a more driver-ori­ented Toy­ota. No doubt buy­ers will vote with their wal­lets on whether it’s a shift in the right di­rec­tion.

At­trac­tive styling; ride and han­dling; ca­pa­ble 2.0-litre petrol Rear seat space sorely lack­ing; boot space trails seg­ment ri­vals Model En­gine Max power Max torque Trans­mis­sion Weight 0-100km/h Econ­omy Price On sale Toy­ota Corolla SX 1987cc, 4cyl, dohc, 16v 125kw @ 6600rpm 200Nm @ 4400-4800rpm CVT 1360kg 9.0sec (es­ti­mated) 6.0L/100km $26,870 Now

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